When your son or daughter is deployed you may feel a complicated mix of feelings. These feelings can include: grief, loss and mourning. The feelings are no quite like grief that you feel when someone we love has passed away, but it is an intense mourning or angst. This can sometimes leave a parent feeling perplexed. As parents, we don’t expect to grieve this way when our son or daughter goes to war. We were never given a handbook with this child and we were never given a mental briefing by the military.
In the past few years the type of grief that military families face when they have a loved one deployed to a war zone have been studied and deemed “anticipatory grief”. Know that you are not alone in your feelings and that there are some ways to manage these feelings so that you can cope.
Anticipatory grief was first described by grief and bereavement pioneer, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In the past, before the long wars we have been engaged in as a Nation, this term was used to describe the grief a patient and patient family would face at the anticipation of an impending loss. It wasn’t the actual grief they faced when death occurred, but rather a grief that came from ‘anticipating’ the loss that was to come.
First I hope you find some peace of mind knowing that you are not alone in your grief! Second, let’s explore some of the common ways anticipatory grief expresses itself and ways to proactively deal with it. I will say that grief is inevitable in military life (either as a spouse or parent) during a time of war. War leaves us on the mental defensive during deployment. All we can do is live the best we know how and take our days during deployment one at a time. This leaves nearly all of us trying to figure out the new fears and grief we are facing. It’s unlike anything else!
First, if you are currently experiencing any of the above symptoms call your physician. The symptoms of anticipatory grief mirror those of depression because they can be closely related — anticipatory grief that is not identified and dealt with can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t put off your mental health needs!
If you are getting ready to face deployment or know you will be in the near future, here are a few ways to deal with anticipatory grief before the brunt of it hits:
I can not emphasize enough the importance of taking very good care of yourself when your son or daughter is deployed. It is not selfish! In fact, it is good for your soldier to know that you are taking care of yourself. It is also better for them on homecoming to have parents waiting who are as healthy as possible, both physically and mentally!